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Music director finalist Jayce Ogren to lead Spokane Symphony in works by Barber, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky

April 11, 2019

Both of music director finalist Jayce Ogren’s parents went to Washington State University.

So did his grandfather and his brother.

And his aunt.

And his uncle.

“We’re a Cougar family,” he said.

Wanting to pursue music and explore a different part of the country, Ogren bucked the tradition, eventually earning his masters in conducting from the New England Conservatory.

But having attended WSU football games and visited his grandparents in the Lewiston-Clarkston area as a child growing up in Hoquiam, Ogren feels like he has roots in Eastern Washington.

The chance to return to those roots as music director of the Spokane Symphony was a big draw for Ogren, who currently lives in Brooklyn.

“I’ve always wanted to be music director of an orchestra in the Northwest,” he said. “I’ve wanted to make music close to home.”

Ogren will lead the Spokane Symphony during “Classics 9: Russian Virtuosity” on Saturday and Sunday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

Ogren is the fifth and final music director finalist. Morihiko Nakahara, who is also resident conductor of the symphony, auditioned in October, and James Lowe led the symphony in February. Rei Hotoda and Arthur Arnold auditioned in March.

Ogren worked for three years as the assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and music director of the Cleveland Youth Orchestra.

He has also conducted symphonies around the world including the Boston Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Dallas and San Francisco Symphonies and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

He conducted the U.S. premiere of singer/composer Rufus Wainwright’s opera “Prima Donna” in 2012 and led its recording with the BBC Symphony in 2016.

Along with a return to his home state, Ogren was interested in applying for the music director position because he found it appealing that the Spokane Symphony was the symphony for the region.

“The people of Spokane but also the people of the whole region, this is their orchestra and this is their source for great classical music,” he said. “I think it gives the job a little more meaning.”

The weekend’s program features Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra; Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony Concerto; and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” arranged by Maurice Ravel.

Guest cellist István Vardái will perform the Symphony Concerto.

The Prokofiev piece, which Ogren said is rarely played, and the Mussorgsky work, which Ogren is familiar with, were already in place, and Ogren suggested the Barber piece.

“There are pieces that tear your heart out and hit you in your gut and the Barber is one of those for me,” he said. “It’s really meaningful, so it’s nice to be able to include it.”

In his limited time with the symphony, Ogren hopes to use these works to connect with the orchestra, using gesture to show the musicians what he thinks each piece is about.

“It’s one of the most extraordinary parts of orchestral playing is that immediately we can understand each other without saying a word,” he said. “Throughout the week, we’re going to make these pieces sound the very best we can, get at what they’re about and we’ll get to know each other a lot through that experience.”

He’s also looking forward to talking with the musicians throughout the week and getting to know them personally.

Ogren is also eager to learn about the Spokane community and brainstorm ways in which the symphony can help make Spokane a better place, “projects that are artistically satisfying for our musicians and provide a community service.”

Last season, for example, Ogren conducted the premiere of David Lang’s Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, which involved 400 student, amateur and professional musicians each playing a broken instrument from the Philadelphia public school system.

Each instrument was then “adopted,” repaired and returned to the school system.

“That’s the kind of project I’d be interested in tackling,” Ogren said. “Really listening to people here, finding out what’s an issue in Spokane that can be if not solved then tackled by new work and great music.”